Director: Chris Weitz
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Dakota Blue Richards, Eva Green
Genre: Fantasy adventure
New Delhi: Giving bizarre a new twist is the first screen adaptation of Philip Pullman’s novel trilogy, His Dark Materials. If you can enter the audiotorium with a sense of wonder, akin to a child’s, rest assured you will stay involved in the epic saga of a lone girl’s quest to find her lost friend with strange creatures from the netherworld joining in and adding to the complex web of deceit and treachery that provide a rich backdrop to what is ultimately a fairy tale where good triumphs over evil.
Dakota Blue Richards makes a sparkling debut as the young wild free thinking girl who fearlessly treads on forbidden paths, with a rare conviction that holds you through the film, as you follow her into dark dungeons and cold icy lands in the far North. Along the way she encounters shape-shifting creatures, witches, and a variety of otherworldly characters in parallel universes.
Nicole Kidman as the scheming vamp lends villainy a classic touch. Its not so much her perfectly fitted classic Versace outfits as it is her understated but powerful essaying of a role that may just come to haunt a lot of children for whom the world is rather simplistically carved out into two equal halves - the good and the bad.
Daniel Craig, post James Bond, has a powerful screen presence, though the role is at best a cameo. The story then rests solely on Dakota’s shoulders and yes, the demons - creatures that represent the souls of each of these fascinating characters in the other world. So if Daniel has a tiger as his symbolic demon, Nicole has a vicious monkey who is an extension of her persona.
Here is a world where flying witches rule the northern skies (a brief appearance by Eva Green is bewitching to say the least), where ice bears are the bravest of warriors and where little moral lessons are doled out through dialogue and action, without getting preachy or didactic.
That the film is one of Warner Bros-New Line Production’s biggest budget projects at $180 million is not a surprise, given the fact that practically every frame has sophisticated computer graphics and imagery. While most of it is breathtaking, it does tend to get a trifle tedius towards the end.
The movie has come in for a fair deal of criticisim in the US from secular organizations for diluting the religious element from the novels and religious organizations for its perceived anti-Catholic and atheistic touch. The average viewer, at least in India, is likely to see it as a theme that is Bollywoodish with the execution of a sophisticated, Warner Bros studio.
The Golden Compass would be followed by The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. A gripping tale, it is bound to catch the imagination of children who love reading and visualizing faraway magical lands, mythical creatures and fantasy-filled, larger than life heroes and villains. The sore point is an abrupt ending that makes it evident that there is a sequel to follow but leaves you a wee bit cheated, at being told a story, building the climax and then allowing it to dissipate into a loosely structured vague end.
The film releases today in English and Hindi.